Outta' the Woods
Wednesday, November 01, 2017
Media contact: Tony Young, 850-488-7867
By Tony Young
The cooler weather and Thanksgiving holiday has many of us wanting to take to the woods and enjoy the opening of several hunting seasons. We often take for granted our ability to hike to our favorite hunting spot and enjoy a beautiful autumn day afield. But there are many men and women who served our country that don’t have that opportunity. That’s where Operation Outdoor Freedom comes in.
The Florida Forest Service has been administering this wonderful program, which provides Florida’s wounded veterans, who are 30 percent or more disabled or have been awarded a Purple Heart, with opportunities to hunt, fish and participate in other outdoor activities. Since 2011, the FFS has hosted over 400 such events and provided outdoor opportunities to more than 3,000 vets.
“Our veterans have sacrificed their safety for our liberty, and Operation Outdoor Freedom is one small way we can demonstrate our gratitude,” said Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “Providing our wounded veterans opportunities for recreation and rehabilitation in Florida's great outdoors is the least we can do for those who have done so much for us.”
According to Randy Gregory, OOF coordinator for the Tallahassee and six-county surrounding area, most vets feel they can’t do much of what they once could do before their injuries, so these hunts can provide a sense of normalcy and healing for them.
“It feels really good to be able to help these heroes who gave so much of themselves to our country,” said Gregory. “These hunts let them see that they are able to get outdoors and once again participate in the activities they love. And for some, the program gives them their first hunting experience.”
Each year, OOF runs an average of 65 hunts throughout Florida on state forest land, providing opportunities for about 250 hunters annually. All a qualified vet must do to participate is register at OperationOutdoorFreedom.com, and they may get drawn for a fully outfitted and guided hunt with meals and lodging provided.
Programs like this remind me of the hunting community’s giving spirit. We’re there to take someone hunting who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity, while contributing to conservation with pride. Carry on that tradition this fall during the general gun season which runs Nov. 4 – Jan. 21 in Zone C, and Dec. 2 – Feb. 18 in Zone B. In Zone A, the second phase of general gun season is Nov. 18 – Jan. 7. In Zone D, the first phase always starts Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23) and lasts four days (until Nov. 26).
During general gun season, only legal-to-take bucks as they are defined in each deer management unit may be harvested, but don’t forget that you need to purchase a $5 deer permit first. On private land, the daily bag limit on deer is two. Bag limits and other regulations for deer on wildlife management areas can differ, so before you hunt, download the specific WMA brochure by going to MyFWC.com/Hunting.
You may hunt wild hogs on private lands year-round with no bag or size limits. Similarly, on most public lands there are no bag or size limits, and hogs are legal to take during most hunting seasons except spring turkey. On a few public hunting areas, specific bag and size limits do apply, so check the WMA brochure to be certain.
Hunters are allowed to take deer and wild hogs over feeding stations on private land, but that’s not the case on WMAs, no matter the season or the game.
It’s illegal to take deer using rimfire cartridges or non-expanding, full-metal case ammunition. Shooting a swimming deer also is against the law.
Within the general gun season are antlerless deer days, better known to us hunters as “doe days.” These dates differ for each of the state’s 12 DMUs. To learn when these antlerless deer opportunities occur in your DMU, refer to the “2017-2018 Florida Hunting Regulations” handbook, which you can pick up at your tax collector’s office, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) regional office or by downloading it online at MyFWC.com/Hunting.
During these doe days, the daily bag limit is one legal antlered deer and one antlerless deer, or two legal antlered deer. Unlike archery season, you may not take two antlerless deer in one day, unless you have antlerless deer tags issued for the private land you hunt. Also, regardless of the season, deer gender or the number of permits, hunters are never allowed to harvest more than two deer per day under any circumstances. And except for a few, most WMAs do not have antlerless deer days.
Fall turkey season starts on the same date as general gun season in zones B, C and D but ends a little earlier. It runs from Dec. 2 – Jan. 28 in Zone B; Nov. 4 – Dec. 31 in Zone C; and Nov. 23-26 and Dec. 9 – Jan. 14 in Zone D. In Zone A, the second phase of fall turkey season is the same as the zone’s second phase of general gun: Nov. 18 – Jan. 7. Hunters may only take bearded turkeys and gobblers, and they must have a turkey permit ($10 for residents, $125 for nonresidents) to hunt them.
You may harvest up to two turkeys per day, if you’d like, but that would tag you out for the entire fall season – because you’re only allowed to harvest a total of two turkeys during the archery, crossbow, muzzleloading gun and fall turkey seasons combined. In Holmes County, the harvest of fall turkeys is not allowed at all. And there’s not a fall turkey season on WMAs, however, on a half-dozen areas, you are allowed to take turkeys during general gun season.
You’re not permitted to hunt turkeys with dogs or with recorded turkey calls, and you’re not permitted to shoot them while they’re on the roost or when you’re within 100 yards of a game-feeding station when feed is present.
The uproar a covey of bobwhite quail cause when suddenly taking to the air in front of a pointing bird dog is enough to thrill even the most seasoned veteran hunter. Quail season this year runs Nov. 11 – March 4, and the daily bag limit is 12. Bobwhites prefer a patchwork of brushy fence rows, weedy fields and open upland forests that are frequently burned. A good bird dog is essential in quail hunting and, for many hunters, watching the dog work and seeing its enjoyment is the most rewarding part.
Shooting hours for deer, fall turkeys and quail are a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. All legal rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders, bows, crossbows and handguns may be used to take each of these resident game animals during the general gun, fall turkey and quail seasons.
Illegal firearms and ammunition are defined as centerfire, semiautomatic rifles having magazine capacities of more than five rounds, and fully automatic firearms. Other prohibited methods for taking game include shooting from a moving vehicle and herding or driving game with a vehicle.
The first thing you’ll need to participate in one or more of these hunting opportunities is a Florida hunting license. Residents pay just $17. Nonresidents have the choice of paying $46.50 for a 10-day license or $151.50 for 12 months.
If you want to hunt on a WMA, you also must purchase a management area permit for $26.50. And don’t forget to obtain the brochure on the WMA you’re going to hunt because dates, bag limits and rules differ greatly for each area. These are available online at MyFWC.com/WMAbrochures.
All necessary licenses and permits are available at your tax collector’s office, retail outlets that sell hunting and fishing gear, by calling toll-free 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or by going online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.
Whether you prefer small-game hunting with friends and family or hunting solo and going after that monster buck, boar hog or big tom, November brings loads of great hunting opportunities.
Here’s wishing you a happy Thanksgiving and a successful hunting season. Take someone hunting when you can. As always, have fun, hunt safely and ethically, and we’ll see you in the woods!
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